Home UK News ‘Prison staff cancel prisoner’s urgent appointment for cancer treatment’

‘Prison staff cancel prisoner’s urgent appointment for cancer treatment’

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Prison healthcare issues

According to a groundbreaking study of healthcare in British prisons, careless personnel and excessive security concerns are putting prisoners’ health in danger.

Over nearly 12 months, experts from three academic institutions evaluated almost 4,000 allegations of safety-related incidents in English jails where a prisoner may have – or did – come to harm. In one instance, a prison official failed to notify healthcare that a prisoner was suffering from a possible stroke. In another example, an epileptic prisoner had three seizures when their medication was delayed.

The researchers discovered that 33% of events included inadequacies related to dispensing medication, such as employees mixing up patients with identical names and providing the wrong treatment. 15% of instances included appointments that were either delayed or could not be attended by the prisoner for reasons outside of their control.

Prisoners were often denied access to doctors if their wing was on lockdown for security reasons or because of a lack of staff. Trips to hospitals may be cancelled if no escort personnel are available. In several situations, prison officials who were notified of health emergencies neglected to notify healthcare personnel.

One of the report’s authors, Professor Andrew Carson-Stevens of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine (CUSM), said: “In prisons, healthcare priorities of patients are often overshadowed by a prison’s main objective – securing detained individuals. This risks adequately considering prisoner needs and their collective responsibility of care.”

The paper made recommendations to improve healthcare in prisons. Dr Joy McFadzean, also of CUSM, said: “Reviewing staff rotas, improving training and rethinking prison layouts could help improve access to in-house care. For external hospital appointments, revised escalation policies and plans to ensure staff escorts are put in place, as well as increasing the use of remote appointments and ‘in-reach’ clinics, would improve patient outcomes.

“We also think that standard handover practices, policies to ensure the safe transfer of medication and prescription information, and appropriate discharge planning could help to ensure continuity of care when people transfer in or out of a prison.”

Among the incident reports cited by the researchers were:

  • “Prisoner’s cellmate pressed call bell that was answered by prison officer. Told that prisoner feeling unwell, slurring speech and facial weakness and stated he thought he was having a stroke. Cellmate asked if prisoner could be seen by a nurse, but this was not relayed to nursing staff. Prisoner was seen the next day and sent to the hospital with a suspected stroke.”
  • “Urgent first appointment for treatment of newly diagnosed lymphoma. Categorised as ‘red’ (urgent, life threatening and do not cancel) by a senior doctor. Security staff unilaterally cancelled and rebooked this appointment for a later date. This will delay cancer treatment.”
  • “Patient ran out of anti-epileptics and informed nursing staff. Prescription was not in place to be renewed. Prescription chased and done. Faxed to pharmacy, but no stock available for that day. Medication not received until two days later, patient missed medication and suffered three seizures.”

Patient safety in prisons: a multi-method analysis of reported incidents in England was published last month in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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